Magic Only Goes So Far

            “My work isn’t hurting anyone. If they have the right to go about knocking on other people’s doors to interrupt an otherwise quiet evening with their pagan singing—”

            “Pagan? You’re calling us pagan?”

“Yelling, always yelling. Is that really necessary?” Davronius grumbled, lifting his head. “Turn it down.”

“Shh,” Mika said, waving a hand at him, trying to watch the televised trial. On the screen, a middle-aged couple was arguing with a woman seemingly in her late thirties.

“All of my work is performed on my own property and involves no one else but myself and my colleagues,” she was saying, her ring-beaded fingers slowly tapping out a steady rhythm against the arm of her chair on the witness stand. Back straight, head held high, she looked as if this entire proceeding was an imposition. “I have never harmed—nor even spoken to—these people or their children. We’ve lived in that house for fifty years, and never once has a neighbor complained.” 

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Separate Motives, Similar Methods

Valen’s knuckles rapped sharply at the door of this well-to-do West Coast high rise, the one with both the best view of the sunset and the best takeoff altitude in the city, the one where she knew she would find Cupid. That is, assuming zie was home. It wasn’t a common thing for her to make “house calls” like this, at least not to anyone who wasn’t mortal, but she’d been coerced into it. A mutual friend had called in distress to recount a recent meeting with Cupid, wherein zie hadn’t been zir usual bubbly self.

“I have never seen zir with chipped nail polish before. Something’s wrong, and I didn’t know who to call but you.”

“Sure, because compassion has always been my specialty,” Valen had answered, frustrated with the interruption of her work day. Still, she recognized that if Cupid was giving any indication of suffering, it must have been something major; zie had quite a lot of practice at maintaining that sweet disposition no matter what.

“That’s not the point. You’ve literally been around zir entire life. Whatever strange relationship the two of you have, it’s enough for you to try to help.”

So, against her better judgment but out of what she viewed as professional solidarity, there she was, waiting for an answer that didn’t come. She knocked again. “Cupid?” Still nothing. But locked doors have never kept Death out for long. As she let herself inside, she could already see zir across the loft-style layout of the apartment. The far wall was comprised wholly of windows, and zie sat with one of them open, sitting on the ledge with zir feet dangling down.

“Hi, Valen,” zie said without looking back. Zie was holding a glass of dark red wine in both hands, and the half-empty bottle sat on the floor next to zir. “Do you need something?”

“I heard you weren’t at your best and figured I’d see why. What’s going on?”

“You’re Death, aren’t you?” zie asked. “You should recognize mourning when you see it.”

“Mourning what?” Valen asked. When zie didn’t answer, she quickly got impatient, tapping her heel on the marble floor and clearing her throat pointedly.

Cupid’s wings visibly tensed, and zie turned over zir shoulder to snap, “I didn’t ask you to come here and ‘solve’ my problem. It doesn’t affect your work, so if you don’t actually care, you’re welcome to leave.” Immediately when zie was done, zie shrank back a bit, guilty and uncomfortable with being so unkind. Valen stayed where she was for a moment before conceding to change her approach. She set her attaché case down and slipped off her shoes, then went to the kitchen to retrieve another wine glass.

“You gonna share that stuff or what?” she asked as she came back, taking a seat in the window beside Cupid and offering the empty glass, which zie filled without question. From this distance, she could see that zie looked paler than usual; the natural blush that perpetually warmed zir cheeks so charmingly had disappeared. Without it, zie looked almost sickly. After one sip of her wine, Valen grimaced. “Damn it! I forgot how strong that shit is.” Dionysus might have been a flake, but no mortal liquor even came close to his work. Cupid visibly cringed from her harsh language, so she tried to move on, “So?”

“…I should probably be used to it by now,” zie muttered, taking another small sip. As zie looked askance at Valen, zir eyes were tinted red. “You’re at least as dedicated to your work as I am. How do you balance that with your personal life?”

Valen snorted, reaching up to remove her shades and rest them on top of her head instead. “My what?”

“Mm-hm. That’s what I thought,” Cupid answered, running zir fingertips around the rim of zir glass. “But that’s not true anymore, and you know it. Somehow or other, you’ve made time enough to fall in love.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions,” she answered. Her gulps were significantly larger than Cupid’s.

“You know I don’t have to. Whether you’re willing to admit it is your business, but…you are still together. She loves you, if nothing else. Enough to be patient while you’re away. Enough to understand that you and your work aren’t separate things.”

“Yeah,” Valen answered tersely. Thinking too hard about her relationship with Savina inevitably made her uncomfortable. Considering her history with love, considering how little she had to offer, it amazed her sometimes, too.

“It just…I don’t see how this works. I try so hard. Every time. I do everything I possibly can to make it work. To somehow manage my love with the millions and millions of others in the world.” Zie took another heavy drink, pausing a moment to reestablish zir balance. “This time, I can’t even blame it on work. It’s me. It’s entirely my fault. There’s just…a lot happens in a few thousand years. Not all of it I want to admit to. Not all of it is acceptable to other people.”

“So what? Who gives a sh— Who cares about ‘other people’?”

Cupid was shaking zir head. “I do, Valen. I’m not like you; I can’t just go off on my own and forget anyone who disapproves. I’ve tried. But I’m not…I can’t live without being loved. That’s why I keep trying even when it never works. Because I can’t do my job properly if I’m alone.”

“…so what happened?”

“I made poor decisions,” zie said. “And, as always, I have no self-control. I made promises that I couldn’t—that I’ve never been able to keep.”

“Look, if you want me to understand, you’ll have to be clearer than that,” Valen said, taking another drink and enjoying the warmth at the back of her throat. Cupid took a deep breath and sighed.

“I was with someone who expected me to be exclusively faithful,” zie said. “Which I can do…for a while. I think that every time.” Zie paused and lowered zir head. “I didn’t want to lose him. I hoped…maybe this time would be different. But I can’t control who I love or when or under what circumstances. And I met someone else. I kept from acting on it, but…it was still there.” Zie was refilling zir glass as zie spoke, dispassionate, quiet. “When you love someone, you can’t just choose to stop.”

“The hell you can’t,” Valen said as her mind flashed to Lilith.

“It’s true. Maybe you change or they do, so the feelings change…but love doesn’t just disappear because you will it away. Not real love. And I can’t produce any other kind,” zie laughed ruefully. “It was just—it was too much. I couldn’t stand lying to him. But I couldn’t tell him, either. He…wouldn’t have understood. It would’ve hurt him more.”

“So you ended it. Used that old fallback of yours, hurt him to protect him?”

It was embarrassing to realize Valen knew so much about this. You’d think a god would learn. Cupid bit zir lip hard as tears slid down zir face, and zie nodded. For the sake of the conversation, Valen kept her opinion on that particular method to herself. The way she conducted herself put honesty above all else, but she supposed that couldn’t work for everyone.

“I couldn’t…just keep quiet forever. But telling him for the sake of my own conscience would’ve been selfish,” zie muttered. It was mind-boggling to Valen how zie could always, always put the feelings of others before zir own. Yet Valen was nothing but selfish and…

“That’s what you meant about trying so hard. How it doesn’t make sense that it never works.”

Cupid had stopped drinking and set zir glass aside, curling zir knees up to zir chest. Even zir wings seemed to curl around zir as zie withdrew, nodding. “I’m…jealous,” zie said quietly. “And I can only assume it’s something I’m doing wrong. Even if you won’t admit it, your relationship is going so well, and you’re…” Valen chuckled as she realized what zie was implying.

“Me?” she suggested.

“I don’t mean—”

“No, it’s okay; I get it. It’s pretty much a fact that you’re easier to get along with than I am.” She drained her glass and leaned her head back thoughtfully. “Guess karma doesn’t work quite right on gods.”

Karma,” Cupid repeated, uncharacteristically bitter. “Oh, I’m sure I’ve done something to deserve this. It certainly would be nice to have someone tell me what, though.”

“As if that would change how you are,” Valen easily countered. “As if you’ve ever listened when anyone else told you how to be. Not your mother. Not Zeus. I won’t even get into Apollo…”

“You know I feel awful about that!” Cupid insisted. But zie was smiling guiltily nevertheless.

“The point is: even if someone tried to ‘guide’ you like that, you’d still tell them you know what’s best for you. Because you do.” Looking out at the city lights far below them, she went on, “That’s the part you should be used to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean sometimes you have to do…thing like this,” she said with a shrug. “Whatever your reasoning is, for their sake, for yours, whatever: it’s because you decided it was necessary. And literally nobody on the planet knows how to deal with love better than you do.”

Cupid listened quietly and considered her words. She was almost objectively right; there was no one else so intimately aware of love by seeing or sensing it, no one else who would so accurately predict where a relationship would lead, no one else who could so deftly mend a broken heart. Zie was able to do this for the same reason Valen could determine a fitting fate for any given mortal; even if not for the centuries of practice, it was part of zir nature.

“I guess,” zie agreed, still ruminating on the idea.

“Look, obviously you and I are in different industries. I can’t tell you whether what you’re doing is ‘right,’” Valen said. Her dark eyes were closed as if in concentration, as if she was being careful to express this thought correctly. “But decisions have to be made, so there’s no point in hating yourself every time you make one.” Zie wondered how many times she’d said this to herself over the years. Probably more than she’d care to admit. But she had come to terms with it, with the knowledge that she couldn’t possibly fulfill her purpose without hurting anyone.

“It still hurts to lose him,” Cupid pointed out.

“Sure, but it won’t end your life.” As callous as she was about matters of the heart, she was, once again, correct. And, as Cupid knew from a great deal of experience (both zir own and others’), that meant there would be other loves in the future. Even if zie couldn’t simply “get over it,” that was a comforting thought.

“…thank you for coming to check on me.”

When Valen glanced back at zir, the softest hint of a blush was starting to color zir cheeks again. Maybe that was from the wine. Maybe not. Zie wanted to hug her, to be physically affectionate as ever, but, knowing that Valen preferred not to be touched, zie held back and settled for a warm smile.

“Don’t mention it. Thanks for the drink,” she said. Without it, she wasn’t sure she would’ve been able to sit through all this mushy bullshit. And drinking made it much easier for her to dismiss it as mushy bullshit without thinking about it too much more.

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Which Mom? ch. 1

Haru was quiet as she held the baby to her chest, her eyes red and swollen. Sono had fallen asleep at their side, the three staying close together for whatever time they were allowed. Part of her regretted ever agreeing to this, but another part knew all too well that if she hadn’t, there would be no baby to give up in the first place. She still wasn’t sure what they would do about their complicated circumstances, but she was trying to relax until they were forced to deal with it.

When the knock at the door finally came, Haru’s tears returned immediately, and her body curled weakly around the baby. Sono woke at the sound and embraced his wife briefly before going to answer the door.

“Sono! Congratulations; I’m so happy for you.” Their visitor was a black woman with a head full of long, teal-colored box braids. She greeted Sono warmly, beaming with delight. “Is the baby awake? Can you introduce us?”

“Yeah. Come inside,” he said, stepping back to let her in.

“Oh, you must be Haruka! I’m Andani,” she said, smiling brightly at the new mother. “How are you feeling? Exhausted, I’m sure. I hear this sort of thing takes a lot out of you.” Haru didn’t answer, reserved and unwilling to be friendly. Andani’s smile dropped. “Ah. I guess this is hard for you. I am sorry it has to be this way. But you should know, I’m going to take very good care of…?”

“Her,” Sono said, carefully taking the baby from her grief-stricken mother. “Her name is Ayaka.”

“Oh,” Andani breathed, covering her mouth with both hands. “She’s beautiful. Can I…can I hold her?” She and Sono both looked to Haru, who nodded slowly, surprised at such gentle manners from a witch. As she took the child in her arms, Andani’s eyes were shining with tears. “Hello, my love…I didn’t expect her to be so perfect. But that’s what you are, my darling. You are perfect.” As her fingertip stroked down Ayaka’s nose, a long and thin snake slithered out of her purse and up her arm to flick its tongue at the baby. Both parents tensed but had to remind themselves that it was no danger to her.

“Hm. Won’t smell that nice for long,” it hissed before retreating back to its hiding place.

“Don’t mind him; he’s just jealous of the attention,” the witch said offhandedly. Seeing the longing on Haru’s face, she passed the child back to her and stood back, hands folded in front of her. “She won’t be in any danger with me. I swear. And you’ll be able to see her if you want, so she won’t be gone for good. I want to make this as easy for you as possible.”

“Thank you,” Haru said, somewhat encouraged by her kindness. “That’s…surprising, I have to admit.” Andani laughed at that.

“I don’t blame you; a lot of people seem to have this idea of what we should be like, so they get confused when they actually meet one of us and we’re not monsters,” she said. “Was there…anything you two wanted to discuss before…?”

“Actually, yes,” Sono said. “There’s a bit of a problem.”

“A problem? What’s wrong?”

“Well, the deal I made with you promised you my firstborn in exchange for your help,” he said. “The problem. Is that Haru did the same. With a different witch.”

What?” Andani asked. “You…how did…why are you just now telling me this?”

“When else would we have told you? We didn’t know what to do. We only have one firstborn between the two of us, and she technically belongs to both of you.”

She could hardly believe what she was hearing. She’d never heard of something like this happening before. What was there to do? She supposed she could only hope this other witch was a reasonable sort. She let out a heavy sigh and pressed her fingertips into her temples.

“I guess we’ll have to figure this out between ourselves. Have you heard from the other witch yet?”

“No. I haven’t spoken to her in…twelve years,” Haru confessed. “Since we made our agreement. But I doubt she’s missed the news. She’ll probably show up soon.”

“Then. I guess I’ll stay with you until she does. Mph, I need a drink,” Andani muttered, shaking her head and pulling a bottle of water from her purse. They spent the rest of the evening discussing infant healthcare, both parties having thoroughly done their research beforehand. Ayaka woke once, briefly, and her dark eyes lingered on each of them in turn before she went back to sleep. As expected, Haruka was drained, so she quickly followed suit. Andani wistfully watched the three of them cuddle together before settling down into a chair and starting to doze, herself.

It was close to four a.m. when there was another, much sharper knock at the door, causing all of them to wake with a start. Except Ayaka, who had been soundly asleep for a solid hour. Rather than wait for someone to let her in, the new arrival opened the door and strode inside without invitation. Following close beside her was a Rottweiler, who stopped a few steps from the bed so the witch did the same.

“Sorry I’m late. Have I missed the hysterics?” she asked. Andani and Sono both got to their feet, blearily forcing themselves awake to look at her. The woman stood firmly as if she owned the room, holding a tall walking stick made of white wood. The bottom eight inches were wrapped in red string, and her half-lidded eyes were smoky and gray, surrounded by what appeared to be burn scars. The silence didn’t escape her notice, and she sighed in irritation. “I can tell you’re staring, even if I can’t see you.”

“Hi. Felonia,” Haru said, holding the baby closer by reflex. The blind woman looked in her direction with a slight smile.

“Haruka. You sound tense,” she observed. “But you have something for me, yes?”

“Not exactly,” Andani answered for her. Fel and her Familiar both turned sharply toward her, suddenly very aware of her oceanic scent.

“Who are you? A friend of the family?”

“I’m a witch. Like you. And I was promised Sono’s firstborn.”

“Who?” Fel asked flatly.

“My husband,” Haru snapped. Putting all of these facts together as one, the new witch sneered.

“Of course, you couldn’t just make this easy. So, which deal was made first?” she demanded. The others paused, not having considered this.

“Well…ours was nine years ago,” Andani said, bringing Fel’s smile back.

“And we have twelve, so I win.”

“Absolutely not! It’s not that simple. I have just as much a claim as you do.”

“So take the next one,” Fel said with a roll of her eyes.

“No!” both parents cried at once, and she let out a long groan of irritation.

“What the hell are we supposed to do, then, share it?” A beat of silence followed that before she quickly backpedaled. “No. No, I was not being serious.”

“It seems like the only fair thing to do,” Andani muttered, though she clearly didn’t relish the idea, either. “It’s the only way to fulfill both deals at once. We could…share custody?”

“What, you mean pass it off every other weekend? Let some water witch put who-knows-what nonsense in its head? I don’t think so.”

“Will you stop calling her an ‘it’?” Andani snapped. “Her name is Ayaka.” Again, Fel’s pale eyes turned toward Haru and Sono.

“You already named her?”

“They had to make her birth certificate,” Sono informed her. “You can call her something different if you want….”

“There’s no reason to; she already has a name,” Andani said firmly. “If you don’t want her anymore, I’ll be happy to raise her on my own.”

“Look, can you just give me a second?” Felonia asked, flicking her hand at the other occupants of the room. The other witch tried to talk back, but her voice was gone, as were those of the baby’s parents. They looked to Andani for help, but she was just as helpless as they were; like Fel had said, she was a water witch. This wasn’t something she could fix.

Felonia took the moment of silence to contemplate the situation. She had never considered this a possibility. What were the odds, after all? Of course, even after she’d waited twelve years for Haruka to have her first child, never contacted her to press the matter, even when she’d found out that she was pregnant…it just couldn’t be simple. But as much as she hated to admit it, that water witch was right; each of them could only have one firstborn, and both witches had claim on her. She did not want to share. But there really weren’t many options.

“Okay, fine,” she said, waving her hand to allow the others to speak again. She gestured to the other witch. “What’s your name?”

“Andani.”

“Grand. I’m Fel. It looks like we’re going to be…working together for a while.”

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Lips Dyed Pomegranate Red pt. 1

I recently started thinking of Hades and Persephone again (as evidenced by my last post)…but then I started wondering what would be different if Hades were also a woman. And I liked the idea so much that I couldn’t help but run with it. So here is part one!

It was uncommon for Hades to venture from the Underworld. It was, after all, her demesnes, her element, and where she was most at ease. Yet there were some things it simply didn’t have. She had come to terms with the still Elysian Plains, created an escape in the River Lethe, and she saw to it at her subjects weren’t suffering (those who deserved that were left to Tartaros).

Yet “not suffering” seemed to be the best she could manage. Lethe helped them to let go of the pain from their lives, the pain of loved ones lost, but it wounded her deeply that this was their only option. To wallow in misery or forget and be empty. Was that a way to spend eternity? Was it all she could offer? No. She felt it was irresponsible on her part. What sort of Queen allowed her subjects to lose their very essence simply because she’d yet to find a better solution? She refused to accept it.

So she began to visit Earth, quietly, surreptitiously, often in a harmless guise that could easily go unnoticed. She observed. What was there about this plane that made it so much more valuable? There was danger, of which the Underworld had little. There was passion, which she supposed they also lacked. Everywhere, in vivid color and sound, there was life abundant, life of all kinds, places to go and intense experiences to have. That, she couldn’t claim. And…

It was during one of these visits, somewhere in the middle of the year, that she first encountered the height of Summer. It was gleaming sunlight and orchids in bloom, flashes of agile wings between the trees. It was overwhelming for every sense: even the sounds and the texture of the air were inescapable. This was more purely Earth than she had ever seen. This was so essentially alive she hardly felt worthy to experience it.

This, she realized, was not the work of Demeter. Demeter was the nurturing mother of nature, but she was temperate and measured. She had learned balance. And this was so much. Too much to have occurred naturally, surely. Yet she didn’t meet the one who had caused it. She returned to the Underworld deeply disappointed but with renewed purpose: whoever had created that glorious burst of life could bring life anywhere, she was certain! Even a place so resistant as the realm of the Dead.

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Queen’s Return

Pomegranate-stained lips
breathe out words like liquid fire,
molten pleasure across his skin,
and suddenly it isn’t so cold.

“Six months,” she says.
“An eternity,” he answers
and holds her close in a way
he’s wanted to since she left.

Her voice is a laugh, a song,
breathless and dizzy and home.
And off the walls it echoes,
and on her tongue it’s sharp.

Hands seek flesh like growth seeks
light, desperate for something to touch,
to feel this ever deeper,
to treasure being whole.

Tart kisses unending, unbridled,
“I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours.”
She willingly struggles for breath
with a thirsty, lust-drunk mouth.

And rhythm. And weakness.
And those few moments for a night,
for a lifetime. To see her, still.
To see him, found. And found again. Again.

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Witchtober Day 4: Garden Witch

Okay, I have no excuses, so I’m done prefacing these. Enjoy!

There were two types of babbling filling the air of the greenhouse, and both of them were Andani’s fault. The first came from the fountain she had installed without a word to Felonia, in her greenhouse. And it had somehow surprised her when Fel had, well, fallen into it. She had been blind for years and was hardly helpless, but when the environment she was used to suddenly changed, it had literally tripped her up. She’d cursed Andani out about it and demanded she remove it—yet there it still was, flowing and burbling away as she tended her succulents.

The second babble came from Ayaka, the baby the two of them had unwittingly adopted together. It seemed the classic payment of a firstborn child for a witch’s aid persisted in the 21st century, and by sheer coincidence (or bad luck, she often thought), each parent had promised a firstborn to each of them. With only one child between the two, there weren’t many options. Thus Fel had been goaded into giving up her nomadic lifestyle in favor of Andani’s seaside home. As much as she hated the setting, like hell would she let her baby be raised by a thoughtless water witch.

“You’re teaching her gibberish,” Fel grumbled when their “conversation”  became too much to stand.

“She has to start somewhere, yes she does,” Andani said in the ridiculous baby voice she used when speaking to Ayaka. “Lalala, can you say la? La?”

“Aah,” Aya responded, rocking in her mother’s lap so the small ball of light above her head danced around. That was a gift from Fel, in fact, a protection ward that Andani had thrown a fit about.

“If you’re going to talk to her, talk to her like she’s a human being.” Despite her gruff attitude, her hands were light as they moved across the soil to be sure it was adequately hydrated and draining well enough. “Use words. Teach her something.”

“She’s not at a stage of cognitive development where she’s ready to learn language yet, Felonia,” Andani said, no doubt quoting one of the many child care and psychology books she had read in preparation. “She needs to know that she’s able to make sounds before she can start assigning meanings to them. It’s just the same as her motor skills.”

Rather than Fel answering herself, her Familiar—a Rottweiler named Valka—got up from where she’d been lying a few feet away. She shook herself out and walked over to sit next to Andani and the baby, claws tapping across the wood-planked floor. Andani visibly tensed; she had always been afraid Valka would be too rough with the baby.

“Aya?” she huffed, and Ayaka turned to look at her. “Du bist Ayaka? Ja?”

Aya grinned widely and repeated, “Ja!” Valka nodded and licked her cheek in encouragement.

“You’re trying to teach her German?” Andani asked, hastily wiping away any drool left on Aya’s cheek.

“Warum nicht?” Fel asked as she got up and dusted herself off. “I speak it. Valka speaks it. Maybe you should learn.” She picked up her watering can and, with one hand brushing Valka’s head for guidance, went outside to check her roses instead.

Andani let out a frustrated sigh and followed after them. “You’re going to confuse her, teaching her two languages at once.”

“Are you serious? Kids are raised bilingual all the time,” Fel said as she poured water just around the bushes’ roots.

“Yes, and it can overwhelm them with too much input.”

“Bullshit. It’s the same as learning more words in one language. She’s smart. She can handle it.”

Andani looked down at the baby in her arms, who was repeatedly babbling, “ja, ja, ja” as Valka tried to stand up and catch her eyes. It wasn’t that she rejected the second language out of spite; she was genuinely worried about Ayaka’s development, and that was the most important thing in the world to her. “I don’t want her to struggle,” she muttered.

“If she doesn’t struggle, she won’t grow,” Felonia said plainly. One hand moved slowly across leaves and petals, ignoring the thorns that scratched here and there. Her other hand took a pair of shears from her belt and expeditiously snipped off any dead buds or withering flowers she found. “You’ll turn her into a lazy, spoiled brat if you keep coddling her like that, and I won’t have it. She’s going to be better than standard Mundanity.” The hard edge to her voice suggested this wasn’t entirely about language lessons.

It had been demonstrated countless times how different their “parenting” styles were, so they’d been butting heads for months. But it was becoming apparent that that wasn’t working out in Aya’s best interest, either. Considering what she knew of Felonia, she was unlikely to suggest a compromise herself, but maybe if one were presented, she wouldn’t be completely disagreeable.

“Maybe you could teach me, too?” Andani asked sheepishly, bringing Aya to kneel on the ground beside Fel.

The Nature witch turned her head slightly in their direction, skeptical. “Would you actually listen?”

“Of course. I have to know at least as much as she does, don’t I? I can’t take care of her if I don’t understand her.”

Fel considered that for a moment. She did have a point. And, wonder of wonders, it seemed like she was finally willing to concede that maybe she didn’t know what was best all the time. “Fine. Let’s hope you can keep up with her pace.”

“I’ll try my best,” Andani said, shaking her head so her braids swung against her shoulders. Still, she supposed, it was much nicer to know they could at least agree on one thing. And that Fel was smiling because of her.

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Witchtober day 2: Urban/city witch

A/N: Still running late. Working on it, though.

She was tapping her heel rapidly where she stood, wedge-heeled sneakers quietly battering the tiled floor. A glance at her phone, and she sighed audibly for the third time in a minute, letting her irritation disperse through the line. It was best to do it in heavily-populated areas like this so that no one person took too much. It was a necessary evil; the only way she could stand to be cheerful on campus all day was to go somewhere like this and get out her leftover frustrations from the day before.

“You guys are busy this morning, huh?” she said as she finally reached the counter, then continued without waiting for an answer: “I need a venti soy milk Green Tea Crème Frappuccino®, but like, with a double shot of espresso.”

“Oh, the green tea frap doesn’t actually come with espresso,” the barista said hesitantly, and Morgan narrowed her eyes.

“And you can’t just, like…put it in?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course! I just didn’t know if—”

“Someone hasn’t had her coffee yet,” said the assistant manager, gently shooing the younger barista away. “Leave him out of your morning rampage; he’s new.”

“Whateverrr,” Morgan said, leaning heavily against the counter to set her eyes intensely on Renee. “No fair substituting yourself; you know I can’t bitch at you.”

“Until you can learn to keep it to yourself, this is all I can do to protect the others from you,” she said, though she was smiling. “$5.14.”

Morgan handed over a ten and added, “Keep the change.”

“Uh-huh. What’s the catch?”

“Go get a drink with me. I mean a real drink, not here,” she offered, angling her shoulders to take advantage of her shirt’s low-cut neckline. Although Renee glanced up and then away quickly, her answer was firm.

“Your change is 4.86,” she said, handing over the cash. “Your drink will be ready at the other side of the counter.”

“You’re killing me, honey,” Morgan whined. Still, she sauntered over to the opposite end of the counter and pouted at Renee until her drink was ready. With a last nasty look at the boy who had taken her order, she swept out of the store and back to her car to rush to her first class.

“What a killjoy,” she answered around her straw. “Guess it’s a bad day for my HoM students.” Her schedule began with History of Magic at 8:30 a.m., populated by the brave or the ignorant who often ended up bearing whatever negativity she had left—or, on rare occasions, countering it with positivity in a way that made everyone’s day a bit better.

This wasn’t one of those days. By the time the class was finished, she felt little but drained. It was hard to get much enthusiasm out of an early morning college class. Hoping to pick herself up, she went out into the courtyard behind the student center and watched her the nightingales that nested there flutter around her and sing cheerfully. At least someone was happy. But being in the sun and around laughing students was helping. She hung around the cafeteria, loud and crowded as it was, to soak up the massive amounts of relief and playful joy around her. For a bit, she went to the library for the peace and focus she could find there.

During her next class at 11, she was practically a different person. She was patient, attentive, making sure that everyone had what they needed and understood the material before she moved on. As usual, her good mood affected those of her students; for those fifty minutes, she was able to revel in being an Empath and a Beacon, as she always did in moments of giving and receiving positive energy.

Still, as nice as she felt presently, she couldn’t help remembering her behavior in the morning and regretting it. Well, regretting it to a certain degree. She knew if she hadn’t gotten it out, it would’ve poisoned the rest of her day. Yet as she sat in her office, sometime around four and after her last class of the day, she was thinking about Renee. After some consideration and internal conflict, she sent a text message to try to break the ice.

Sent, 4:22 pm: Hey. What’s going on?

Received, 4:27 pm: That’s a good song.

Sent, 4:27pm: It was a sincere question, thank you very much.

Received, 4:29 pm: Well nothing’s going on. Thank you very much for asking.

Morgan let out a deep sigh and ruffled her hair a bit harder than necessary.

Sent, 4:30 pm: I’m sorry about this morning.

Sent, 4:30 pm: I was being pushy and manipulative.

Sent, 4:30 pm: You know I’m not always like that.

Received, 4:36 pm: I know.

Sent, 4:37 pm: Still no dice though, huh…?

Received, 5:00 pm: We’ve talked about this, Professor.

She rolled her eyes and groaned mightily.

Sent, 5:02 pm: You’re not even taking classes with me anymore. I’m not your teacher.

Received, 5:40 pm: I would really prefer not to have this conversation again. I want to be your friend. Please let that be enough.

Morgan didn’t respond. By this time, she had gotten home and was lying on her back in bed. It shouldn’t have been such a big deal, she reasoned. There were plenty of other girls in the world. The problem was that some part of her felt she wasn’t being properly represented…but that was wishful thinking. Whether or not she was “naturally” a bitch sometimes, her actions were undeniable. When she was weighed down with everyone else’s negativity, she tended to be hostile herself. She couldn’t blame Renee for rejecting her.

As she was throwing her small and exclusive pity party, she heard something tapping against her window. She frowned and sat up in bed, and the tapping repeated until she came to investigate. Sitting outside on the windowsill, she found a flying squirrel who seemed to be waiting patiently for her to answer.

“Well well,” she said as she carefully opened the window. “Look who’s back in town unannounced.”

“What do ya think I’m doing here if nae announcing myself?” A woman’s voice, thickly laden with a Brogue accent answered her from below. The squirrel leapt from the sill to glide down to her, and she grinned up at Morgan from the shadow of her cowl. “And will ya let an old woman in, or am I having to beg?”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “My door is always unlocked for you, Biddy.” When she met her old friend downstairs, it was with a tight embrace and a kiss planted in her thick ginger hair. “What brings you back?”

“What ever does? The wind. The fair folk,” Biddy explained. “My own fickle whim. You’re doing well, Morríghan?”

“I am,” she replied without thought, disregarding the complete let-down of a day she’d had. In fact, she supposed it was a welcome distraction. “I’m betting you wouldn’t say no to a glass of whiskey.”

“I would’nae say ‘no,’” she agreed, finally pulling her hood back and removing her cloak. It went in the corner along with her bag, and her Familiar crawled up her leg to perch on her shoulder. “If you’re offering.”

“Sit down, ya crone,” Morgan said with a smile and a shake of her head as she went for their glasses. It wasn’t the drink she’d hoped to be having, but she did see herself enjoying this encounter more.

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